Brian Evenson On his new story collection, writing, recommendations, and inspirations | More2Read
 

Brian Evenson On his new story collection, writing, recommendations, and inspirations


BRIAN EVENSON is the author of a dozen books of fiction, most recently the story collection Song for the Unraveling of the World (June 11 2019), A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House Press 2016), and the novella The Warren (Tor.com 2016). He has also recently published Windeye (Coffee House Press 2012) and Immobility (Tor 2012), both of which were finalists for a Shirley Jackson Award. His novel Last Days won the American Library Association’s award for Best Horror Novel of 2009. His novel The Open Curtain (Coffee House Press) was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an International Horror Guild Award. Other books include The Wavering Knife (which won the IHG Award for best story collection), Dark Property, and Altmann’s Tongue. He has translated work by Christian Gailly, Jean Frémon, Claro, Jacques Jouet, Eric Chevillard, Antoine Volodine, Manuela Draeger, and David B. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship. His work has been translated into Czech, French, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Persian, Russia, Spanish, Slovenian, and Turkish. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Critical Studies Program at CalArts.



Interview with Brian Evenson


 

Lou Pendergrast

Welcome and thanks for this time out of your writing life.

You have a new story collection Song for the Unraveling of the World out in June 11 the summer of 2019, what can we expect from this?

 

 

Brian Evenson

I think if you know my previous stories, you have a pretty good idea what to expect:  fairly dark fiction that still, I hope, gives much food for thought. This collection is a lot like the previous collection, A Collapse of Horses, but I think it plays around even more actively with genre.  The stories walk a line between literary fiction, horror, and science fiction.


 

Lou Pendergrast

What do you hope to communicate with these collection of stories?

 

 

Brian Evenson
I like to read fiction that is intensive, that makes me feel like I’m experiencing something.  That’s what I hope to do as a writer for my readers as well. I want them to have intense and satisfying experiences with my stories, and to go away from reading my books still thinking about the stories. 

 

LP

Pick a short story from the collection and tell more about it please, a story behind it.

 

 

Brian Evenson
The shortest story, which opens the collection, is called “No Matter Which Way She Turned” and is the story of a girl who seems to have been transformed by otherworldly visitors into a girl who has two backs and no front.  It’s a strange story, very atmospheric, and tries to do a lot in a minimal number of words. That story was written because a website called People Holding asked me to write a piece in response to a photograph.  They gave me a photograph that seemed to be a kind of religious revival meeting in which everyone’s face was visible except one central girl.  I think they expected  me to write a story related to what the actual situation was, but as I stared at the photograph the thing I kept thinking about was the faceless girl.  You can see the photograph and read the story I wrote here: http://www.peopleholding.com/article/no-matter-which-way-we-turned-by-brian-evenson/.
That will probably give you a sense of whether this collection is for you.

 

 


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LP

You have crafted many unique characters, scenes, dilemmas, worlds, conflicts, tragedies, and speculative tales. What do you hope to achieve with your works and what does these works mean to you?

 

 

Brian Evenson
I feel like each story is its own little world, and in each one I’m trying to create the world and characters in such a way that conflicts and dilemmas will arise naturally out of them. There are lots of reasons I write but I think the main one is that I think there’s a great deal fiction can tell us about how we think and about the way the mind works. I think short stories are particularly good at showing that.

 

 


 

LP

I like you unique cover design, there is a similar strain in previous titles, tell me about that please, the idea and artist behind it.

 

 

Brian Evenson
The cover is by my child, Sarah Evenson, and Sarah did the covers of the previous four books as well.  The previous four books were made so that they could be put together to form a kind of beast: each book was a quadrant of the best. This piece is specifically made so that it can replace the head of the previous beast, so it continues to play around with the design theme of the first book.

 

 


 

 


 

LP

Immobility and Last Days two great works of yours had received praise and success. Tell me the story behind these, their seed and inspiration.

 

 

Brian Evenson
Immobility is a post-apocalyptic story of a man who wakes up after many years of being in suspended animation and is sent on a quest to retrieve something by people who claim to be his friends but who he’s not sure he can trust–it’s quickly clear, in any case that they’re not telling him everything. It’s a kind of noir that takes place in a ruined world. It was inspired when a book cover designer asked me to write a description of a book that I would never write so that he could make a fake book cover for it. So, I wrote a description of the book and he designed a cover, and then that would have been it except that an editor at Tor saw the cover and said “You know, you really should write that book.”  So a description of an imaginary book led to an actual book. Last Days is about a detective who loses a hand and, partly because of that, comes to the attention of a strange cult who believes that to get closer to God you should remove parts of your physical body. It’s the story of his misunderstanding of what this cult wants from him and his attempt to survive it.  It started when I was asked to write a novella for a small press that specializes in horror, and was my attempt to see if I could combine noir and horror.  I’m in the middle of writing a sequel to it.

 

 


The many faces of Last Days by Brian Evenson

 


LP

Writing, when, where, and with what do you do it?

 

 

Brian Evenson
I’m one of those strange writers who seems to be lucky enough to write anywhere.  I usually write using a clipboard with pieces of scratch paper on it, and write with a cheap hotel pen.  I have an office at home, and sometimes I write there, but at least as often I write in various places in the house–one of the two library chairs we have or out on the patio for instance, or up at my office at school.  And even I most often write by hand, I’ll often mix it up and switch to typing into the computer if I get stuck.  And I often will handwrite a few pages, then type them in, print them out, revise them by hand, and continue writing from there.

 

 


Evenson @ writing desk


 

LP

What key writing advice would you share?

 

 

Brian Evenson
I think the key thing for me is not to be too precious about it.  Just write and don’t worry about what others will think about it.  I also don’t use a fancy pen or fancy paper because for me it puts too much pressure on the act.  A cheap pen and scratch paper make me feel like I’m just playing around and that makes it more fun for me. I think anything you can do to decrease the pressure of the act of writing is a good thing.

 

LP

Hobbies, anything you have a passion to and enjoy?

 

Brian Evenson

My family likes to do puzzles, and I’ve gotten in the habit of that, particularly when we’re together.  And I swim every day (which I guess for a Californian isn’t that unusual). I like to cook and am very proud of some of the things I cook; that gives me satisfaction.

 

LP

Who are your memorable characters from fiction?

 

 

Brian Evenson
There are lots of them.  Severian from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun is really memorable… But I think I gravitate more toward books than to characters.  I love Beckett’s Molloy for instance, but is Molloy a favorite character? Not exactly… 

 

 



 

LP

You have written blurbs for release in the year 2019 which ones are your recommended reading?

 

 

Brian Evenson
There are a lot of great books coming out in 2019, including some that I didn’t find the time to blurb. I love Adam Ehrlich Sach’s very eccentric The Organs of Sense. Priya Sharma’s Ormeshadow is great, as is Mike Kelly’s forthcoming collection, All the Things We Never See.  I liked Craig Laurance Gidney’s A Spectral Hue.  John Dermot Wood’s concise Always Blue is wonderful as well. Sarah Rose Etter’s The Book of X is strange and quite nice. There are also some great translations of Silvina Ocampo’s work that City Lights is publishing and that I’m really looking forward to.  There are a lot of others.


 

LP

Dystopian and sci-fi movies which ones are your favourite and on your re-watch list?

 

 

Brian Evenson
I often rewatch and teach Alien.  I frequently rewatch The Thing as well. Blade Runner as well, and Brazil. I’m a big fan of Godard’s Alphaville as well.


 

LP

Authors and their books that your re-read and inspired you to set upon the road of the aspiring writer?

 

 

Brian Evenson
Franz Kafka was extremely important to me when I was a developing writer. So were Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar and J. G. Ballard, on the literary side, but also Gene Wolfe, Samuel Delany, and Michael Moorcock. I reread a lot of those writers even today.  Cormac McCarthy I came to a little later, but he was important to me as well. There are many others.

 

LP

Share one thing that has delivered light and happiness into your life since becoming a writer and published author.

Brian Evenson
I’m always happy when I hear from readers about how much my work means to them.  I had a letter from someone who read one of the Dead Space novels I wrote under the name B. K. Evenson.  He said he didn’t read fiction much and that my book Dead Space: Martyr was the only book of fiction he’d read all year, and he’d only read it because he liked the video game.  But that since reading it he’d gone on to read two more of my books and was planning to read more.  What an amazing compliment, and what a privilege to be able to get someone interested in reading again.

 

LP

What will your next novel be about and when will it arrive?

Brian Evenson
I’m working on a sequel to Last Days which will be called Phantom Limb. I’m hoping to finish it over the summer, but I’m not sure when it’ll be published… 

 

LP

It has been great to chat with you and share these insightful minutes on writing and inspirations.

 

 

Brian Evenson

Thank you!

 



 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 07 June 2019